Reawakening a giant
There are signs of steady revival at Safa’s flagship academy, the School of Excellence in Elandsfontein, Ekurhuleni.
The fresh paint on the walls and roof of the massive structure makes for a welcome change from the dilapidated sight that greeted visitors to the school two years ago.
Maintenance crews working on resuscitating the almost neglected soccer grounds also lent a sense of revival to the school during City Press’ visit this week.
In addition to new features, such as the volleyball and tennis courts, there was also a well-equipped computer centre, which the pupils had been using for a month now.
The academic side
The school appointed Joseph Molele as its new headmaster in May, filling a post that was vacant for nearly two years.
“Academically, the boys are doing well,” boasted Molele.
“Last year, we got a 93% matric pass rate and, out of this number, had a 57% university entrance mark; the rest were diploma passes. The school currently has 119 boys enrolled, 19 of whom are in Grade 12. We are expecting nothing less than a 100% pass rate.”
The academic programme starts at 7.30am and runs until 3pm.
“We have a compulsory intervention programme in all the grades for those who are having academic challenges,” said Molele, who was born in Hammanskraal and raised in Atteridgeville, both townships in Pretoria.
“We have seen improvement since we introduced the system in the second term.”
Molele, however, conceded that striking a balance between books and soccer remained a challenge for any sport-focused school.
“It’s a challenge for most of the boys, especially those who see their future as soccer. But it’s constant coaching that makes them realise they still need an education.
“As much as we try to place them in clubs from the football side, we also insist that they need to have a good education behind them so that, after 10 or 15 years of playing football, there is something they can fall back on.
“We have other sportsmen who have degrees, and we remind them that, as soccer players, they should not be different and should also strive to have an academic qualification of some sort to be able to sustain them after their playing days.”
The school has two matriculants in the SA Under-17 team that is heading to Chile next month to take part in the age group’s Fifa World Cup – an event that clashes with some final examinations.
Midfielder Sibongakonke Mbatha and striker Edwin Sekhwama were completing their pre-exam tasks before joining the Amajimbos camp this week.
“When they come back [from the World Cup], we’ll put them in a revision programme so that they are ready for the supplementary exams early next year,” said Molele.
“They will catch up with the rest of the papers they have missed.”
The football side
A gigantic Kay Motsepe Schools Cup and a McDonald’s trophy fight for space with the school files in Molele’s spacious office.
This suggests the School of Excellence can still yield results on the field of play, despite the academy being hit by an exodus of coaches over the past few years.
A youthful Lefa Mathebula oversees the football side of things as the school’s head coach, a post he took up four months ago.
The Mahikeng-born mentor joined the school in 2008 as an assistant coach.
Mathebula is assisted by goalkeeper coach Gavin Silango (former Kaizer Chiefs and Mamelodi Sundowns goalie) and long-serving mentor James Mabena.
“The benefits are there, but you cannot immediately see that in the league because our programme is pupil-focused. We are trying to make sure each child gets to play every week, and this project needs patience,” said Mathebula.
“We don’t measure our success by wins, but by the number of players we produce for professional clubs. Most people think we are not producing players, but we have about 54 players who are registered across the Premier League, the National First Division and right through to the Reserve League clubs,” he said.
Two of the school’s notable recent graduates are Bidvest Wits’ Paseka Sekese and Abednigo Mosiatlhaga.